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Monday, November 4, 2013

The Next Chapter

Well, after some (more or less necessary) delays, here is the next chapter in book four. If you thought that we were through with the fantasy elements of the story, think again. Here, the old silver coin makes its appearance, and we have dreams, and mysterious occurrences........  

                       Chapter Eleven

Marilyn was uncharacteristically quiet. As Charlie drove the streets, and made the turn onto the highway, she kept thinking about everything that had happened to her this week. She played it over and over in her mind, but she found herself unable to talk about her anxieties to her friend, who was obviously concerned. Her decisions were just too personal, and they involved her relationship with Bob, now off in this other world, with which she was given a chance to somehow interact. But what was the nature of this interaction? And this fellow named Falma had been somewhat evasive, or so it seemed to her.

Finally, after they had been on the highway for what felt like an hour, but was really no more than ten minutes, Charlie turned to Marilyn, and asked, “now, I don’t mean to be rude, or to put my foot where it doesn’t belong, but Marilyn, after all this time, I believe I’ve gotten to know your moods. And you’ve got to tell me  - something’s really bugging you, isn’t it? And don’t give me that stuff about it being too private.”

“All right, Charlie,” she responded. “I guess by now you’ve become important enough to me that you do deserve some truth. And don’t get me wrong, when I say this stuff, it’s unprocessed, unrefined … like it’s fresh from the tree. I just haven’t had time to think things through – and here I’m supposed to make rational decisions in a world that does not make sense.”

“Uh, Okay. And you asked me along for what…?”

“Because I needed you to… to be here…”

Suddenly, Marilyn was overcome with a flood of tears, and found herself unable to speak. Charlie reached into his jacket pocket and produced a handkerchief. Then he turned off on the 35th Street exit, where he found another side street, and then turned right into a park by the river. He waited patiently for Marilyn to regain her composure, which she did, after five minutes.

“You know, Charlie,” she said, “you’ve become a real friend to me, and I do think that I love you. But Bob is still in the picture, so to speak, and that’s just too complicated. And now, I’ve been given a chance to interact with him – at least indirectly. And I’ve told this Falma person that I was willing – whatever that means – to be someone important to his survival (at least that’s the way I understand it). And it would appear to be something that’s going to happen soon.”

And she continued, “So now, I’ve really got to rely on you. You just have to stay, and keep finding out in that investigative reporter’s way of yours, just what is happening here. You’ve got to keep in touch with the earl, and with Carol, and see what you can find out about Janie and Earl Crabtree. For I tell you that I’m convinced that they will have some important things to say and do before this whole thing gets settled. And don’t worry about me. I know that I’ll be fine.”

Saying that she got out of the car, and walked over toward the bench by the river, where there was an old man sitting. Charlie fumbled with his seat belt, but cursed as he found it wouldn’t budge. He yanked furiously at it, tried pulling this way and that, but it stubbornly refused to give way.

Marilyn, meanwhile, could be seen walking along with the old man toward the trees. Charlie quickly rolled down the window, and he poked his head out the door and yelled, “Marilyn! Wait, Marilyn…!”

He tried the seat belt once more, and this time it released, as if nothing had happened. He quickly got out of the car and ran to where he had seen the two enter the trees. There was no sign of them. But there upon the low-lying branch of a pine tree was his handkerchief. He picked it up and as he was getting ready to put it in his pocket, he noticed there was something inside it. There, in the folds of cloth was a silver coin. He really didn’t have to look to know, but he did anyway – at this ancient Greek coin, still shiny.

Oh, God! thought Charlie, now you’ve really done it! Now you’ve got me involved, for sure.

He searched through the woods for the next few minutes, realizing it was futile. The handkerchief, with its coin, was safely in his pants pocket. Eventually giving up his useless search, he headed back to his old, blue Nissan wagon. 

As he automatically drove the familiar streets toward the police station (without fastening his seat belt), his thoughts were wordless. He was in the ancient forest, with its hardwoods and large conifers, its moist and moss-covered paths. He could hear the stream off in the distance, and he could smell the earth. He found himself longing for the release of the forest, for its promise of fulfillment, for its quiet strength. Even as he drove toward the police station and parked, he was still in the deep green forest. It was not until his hand reached for the heavy door that he realized where he was, and began to panic. He thought of what he was doing here, and whom he was coming to see, and whom he was supposed to be with. His head began swimming, and he felt a sudden need to lie down.

“Why, Charlie Stephens, it’s been a while!”

That voice brought him sharply back to reality.

“Detective Lewinsky!” he gasped. “I was just coming to see you…”

“You know, I thought I’d find you here… Well, just come on in with me. You see, there’s someone in here who’s been most eager to see you, too.”

She led him down the dark gray hallway, and then turned into a small, cluttered office. In the office sat, of all people, Janie Crabtree. It had been four years, and the time had taken a toll on Janie. She looked thinner, almost cachectic, and her hair, which had formerly been a shade of brown, now hung limp and gray, framing her still intense face.

Janie smiled wanly, then said, “well, Mr. Stephens, it’s been, what, four years now, hasn’t it?” Then, as if to answer his puzzled look, went on, “I know the years have been cruel. I’ve been battling this cancer, and I’m afraid that now it’s gotten the better of me…”

“Oh, Janie, please… I’m so sorry, and I’ve been busy. I didn’t know.”

“No, how could you? It’s been just another thing. Ever since we lost Josh, Earl and I sort of retreated into ourselves, and then over the last six months, this cancer got diagnosed, and I’ve been going through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy – though I don’t even know why. But something told me that I should reach out to you and Marilyn. And as odd as it may sound, Detective Lewinsky seemed to be the first one I should reach out to, especially after the dream…”

“The dream?” Charlie’s mind was racing at Janie’s rush of words. He sat down in a chair opposite Janie, and he reached out and touched her hands. “Maybe, just maybe, we should start with those dreams. For it seems that there may be more to tell. Can you tell me about your dream?”

Janie paused for a few seconds, as she looked down at her feet, and looking back up, she smiled at Charlie’s eyes. “OK, Mr. Ace reporter, here’s something for your notebook. During my last session of chemo, after the vomiting stopped, I drifted off to sleep. And in my dream, which was so incredibly real, more real, in fact, than this cancer or the chemotherapy, I was walking in the woods. These were the deep, dark woods of your fairy tales – sort of primeval, ancient and forbidding. And as I was walking along this path, I was joined by another – a young man who was the absolute image of my Josh, even talked with his voice, but who said his name was Tom, and he knew me. And he knew “Master Gilsen” and the lady, Judy. Anyway, as we were walking along in this forest, Tom explained to me that Dr. Gilsen and Judy were about to embark upon a journey across this place called Shepperton, and that they were in some sort of danger, as there were forces about that sought to do them harm. I tried to ask just what kind of danger, but all I got out of him was that all of Shepperton, and all the world had been put in some sort of jeopardy by one he called LeGace.”

“Now, wait just a minute,” said Charlie, as he fished in his jacket, and pulled out his small notebook, “you’re going to have to let me make some notes here. For it would seem that we’re getting back into some deep stuff here. And I want to make certain I get all this right.”

“And me too,” interjected Detective Lewinsky. “Just let me get this tape recorder going, if that’s Okay with you, Janie…”

She set up a small cassette recorder, with Janie’s approval, and had Janie start over with her narrative.

Janie went on to explain how Tom had asked her to be the go-between, or the contact between their two worlds, as it would appear that Marilyn had been called away by someone named Falma.

At the mention of Marilyn and Falma, Charlie grew visibly pale, and stammered, “Now… now, Janie, just a minute…You mentioned Marilyn… and Falma… How could you have known…?”

At that, Janie reached into her purse, and pulled out a small box, the size of an ordinary matchbox, and handed it to Charlie, and said, “Well, Mr. Stephens, before he left, Tom handed me this, and told me that you would know its significance, and would have in your possession, the other piece of the puzzle…”

As Chris Lewinsky stared, slack-jawed, Charlie opened the tiny box, and then took from his own pocket, the handkerchief, with its silver coin, and reverently placed the drachma in its place on the blue velvet. Next, he handed the box to Chris, who took it gingerly, staring at the little coin, which appeared to have a mind of its own.

“Well,” Charlie began, “I guess it’s now time for me to begin to tell you, Detective, of yet another missing person report.”

And for the next twenty minutes, Charlie told of his recent experiences and interactions with Marilyn Gilsen, with the earl and Carol, and with Marilyn’s strange disappearance.

“And I must say, Mr. Stephens,” added Detective Lewinsky, as she pulled a paper out of her drawer, “you have just succeeded in making my job as a detective so much more complicated than it was, at least since the last time that we were involved together. I should have known – these past four years had seemed too straightforward.”

“As you say, Detective… and might I suggest that we should pay a visit to my friend, the earl of Shepperton?”

“A wise suggestion, indeed. And so much better than watching a seasoned detective cry all over her paperwork.”

As Marilyn stepped through the narrow space between the tree and the rock, she found herself staring at a world she could only have seen in photographs from the National Geographic magazines that she knew as a young girl. Beyond her was a vast expanse of mountains and forest, which gave way to the far off sea. She inhaled sharply as the cool, clean air about her seemed to invigorate her senses. She stopped to just take it all in, as she waited for her elderly companion to make the climb. It interested her to note that he had told her to go on ahead, as they made the last aching climb, up from the ancient forest. It was as if he had wanted her to experience this spectacular view for herself. And so she did. She could see that the path (if it might generously be called that) ended in the meadow, which opened below her feet. Off to the right was a magnificent, still snow-capped peak, and below that a series of lesser mountains, which formed a ridge, and there, at the base of the meadow was a lake of deepest blue. A large eagle soared in the sky above her. All was still, but so very alive. 

All along their walk into the trees, and through the long tunnel, and then into the deep woods, Falma had told her the story of how Master Robert and the lady, Judy, had transformed the island of Shepperton. He told her of how they had come those years ago, with their knowledge of healing. And then how they had built something they called a clinic, and how Master Robert had begun teaching at their newly formed institute; and how this had transformed their once quiet island, turning it into someplace with a reputation for excellence. He had not said, nor had she asked, where he was taking her. But indicated, as the way was getting steep that she should go on, and that he would follow. He did not seem to be growing tired, but did tell her to just follow the path up the slope toward that point of light ahead. And she did just that, and was panting as she had stepped out into this incredible new world.

She heard a rustling sound behind her, and assumed it to be her companion, but when she turned, it was not the old man. Rather, it was the youth from her dream, who stepped from the woodland behind her.

“Good morrow, Lady Marilyn…”

“Uh, hello. Tom, isn’t it?”

“Oh, aye. It is I again. And I do welcome you to Shepperton. Now, you may have wondered how you were brought here, and perhaps also why. Well, I am able to explain some of your queries, but not all, for only time shall be able to answer that which I am unable to. But, for now, come with me, and I shall explain what I am able, and to equip you with the knowledge that you shall need.”

Marilyn felt a rush of emotion, which she was not able to define, as if she were accepting some responsibility too great and terrible for words. She swallowed, and answered Tom’s unspoken question.

“All right, now that I’ve made it this far, I might just as well see things through. So, please, go ahead and explain things to me. I am now so obviously far from anything that I’m familiar with, and I have no notion of where we are, or what I’m supposed to do.”

“Fair enough, Lady Marilyn. What you see before you is the isle of Shepperton, and we are on a ridge called Firebarrow Ridge. Now, if you look toward the East, that way, you can just make out, I believe, what is the great castle of Shepperton.”

Marilyn looked, the way he was pointing, and thought she could see what he indicated, a small, gray shape by the ocean, but from these many miles away, could not be sure. Nonetheless, she nodded, and said, “well, if you say so, but it could just be a speck in the distance.”

“Now, m’lady, it would seem that Master Robert and the lady, Judy, along with a retinue of others, have just left the castle, and are coming this way. Now their aim is to arrive at the woodland home of Drachma, which is over yonder.” He gestured with his arm, pointing toward the forest, as it arose from one of the more northerly portions of the great valley. Then he put his hand to his mouth, and let out a shrill whistle. And from seemingly nowhere, a horse came trotting up. “Come, m’lady. I shall escort thee to where you may be of the greatest use to the travelers.”

Marilyn got on the great horse, and Tom got on behind her, they turned, and the horse headed off toward the forest, but not in the direction that Tom had pointed out, but toward the southwest. Marilyn was about to ask, but Tom answered her unspoken query, saying, “now, it may seem, m’lady, that we are going in another direction, altogether. While that is true, I must tell thee that it is for thine own safety that I bring thee this way. For, you see, there be powers that would interfere with our plans, and it would be better if they were not alerted to your own presence among us.”

Hmm, thought Marilyn, it seems that I’ve once again become a pawn in this game, which I don’t understand. 

As the horse lurched forward and headed down the path, back into the forest, she felt once more the odd sensation which had initially impelled her on this journey - something like a warm, soft blanket around her soul, which implied a sense of rightness, of peace, yet still there was danger. She could feel its presence, hear its whispered threats.

“May I ask you, Tom, will I see Mr. Falma again?”

“Ah, m’lady, of that I am unable to speak, for I know not. But this I know – you shall feel his presence where we are going.”

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